Scientists will beam messages to alien planets next year - but will it spell doom for Earth?

·Contributor
The mysterious flash of high-energy burst, called FRB 150215, was detected in February 2015 using the Parkes radio telescope in Australia.
The mysterious flash of high-energy burst, called FRB 150215, was detected in February 2015 using the Parkes radio telescope in Australia.

A controversial project will send messages to stars with planets thought to be capable of sustaining life – with the first transmissions starting in 2018.

Not everyone is enamoured of the idea – with experts such as Stephen Hawking warning that it might attract hostile attention from aliens (if they exist).

But the experts behind the METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project say that the imagery of alien-invasion sci fi films will probably not reflect the reality of what’s out there.

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Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International, says, ‘One of the reasons people are so afraid of METI is that it seems riskier to do something than to do nothing.

‘When we try to evaluate the risks and benefits of an unknown situation where we have little or no actual data, we fall back on the most vivid images that come to mind. But just because the first images of alien contact that come to mind are horrific, that doesn’t mean they’re realistic.’

Vakoch says that the messages – directed towards planets thought to have liquid water, and thus the possibility of life – are rather different from previous attempts.

Vakoch says, ‘Some of the most prominent messages of the past have tried to cover everything.

‘We’re taking the opposite approach. Rather than trying to communicate everything, we are focusing on saying a few things very clearly. For our first messages, we are emphasizing the essentials of math and physics.’

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